Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Saints--Meet Your (Very) Extended Family

The Church is a family of sorts.  This is no different in Protestant traditions, and be we Protestant or Catholic, Christians can often be heard to refer to our "brothers and sisters in Christ."  This is why (since becoming Catholic) it amazes me that there is so much confusion regarding the Communion of Saints.  What are the Christians who have gone before, but our (sometimes much) older brothers and sisters in Christ?

St. Therese of Liseux
"But they're dead!" you may say.  And right you are--or are you?  We believe, as Christians, in the eternal soul, and in the promise of eternal life, do we not?  Are those who have died in Christ truly dead, or are they, being in the presence of our Lord and Savior, more alive than you or I have ever yet been?  Catholics believe in a more eternal, less limited (by the human constructs of space and time) vision of the Church.  For purposes of clarity, it is classified into three parts:  The Church Militant (that's those of us here on Earth), the Church Suffering (those in the state of Purgatory--more on that another time), and the Church Triumphant (the saints in Heaven).  But, they are ALL part of the Universal Church.  The point there being, if you would ask your friend Suzanne to pray for you, why can you not ask the same of your friend St. Therese?  Both are your sisters in the eternal family of Christ, but only one stands in the direct presence of God--a distinct advantage of being "dead," actually.

"But you shouldn't pray to anyone but God!"  Okay, here is where a change in connotations in the English language leads to misunderstandings.  We shouldn't worship anyone but God.  Praying is a different matter entirely.  But since the word "pray" is no longer commonly used in our language outside a religious context, people have come to equate prayer with worship.  The gentleman in Elizabethan times who asked a fellow on the street, "I pray thee, couldst thou direct me to the nearest inn?" was certainly not worshiping him.  He was asking a favor, which was the originally understood meaning of the word.  Therefore, when Catholics pray to a Saint, we do not worship him or her (worship is reserved for God alone), we are merely asking a favor, specifically, the favor of his or her prayers to God on our behalf.

I think a common, but largely unvoiced, objection to the Communion of Saints, is a certain fear that if one loves a Saint or three (or the Blessed Mother, herself), one takes something away from God.  Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of the concept of the Church as a family.  If you love your brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins, does that somehow leave you less love for your father or mother?  So it is with God's family.  Love all the Saints you want, for they are your brothers and sisters.  There will never be less love left for God.  Just make sure you remember who your Father is.  :)

"You have pictures of them all over your house!  Isn't that a little weird?"  Well, I could go two directions with this (so of course, I'll go both).  One is to make the very calm and reasoned point that most people hang pictures of their family in their home--perhaps even of relatives who died a generation or two before the current members were born--and no one thinks it odd.  The other is to get a little snarky and point out that if you have a poster of Kobe Bryant, Beyonce, or the Jonas Brothers on your wall (or simply wouldn't consider it strange if someone did), then get off my picture of St. Monica. :)  At least she's a shining example of Christian virtue, and remembering her reminds me of the life God calls me to.  And how many pop culture icons can you say that about?

Rock on, Monica.  And say a prayer for me.  This life is beautiful, but no one ever said it was easy!

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